Méid an Téacs

An Chomhairle Mhúinteoireachta chun athbhreithniú a dhéanamh ar tháillí iarratais

Feabhra 2, 2015

We\\\’re sorry, but at the moment this page is only available in Béarla Meiriceánach

Coláiste Eoin row: Schools need to respond on parents’ concerns

Eanáir 29, 2015

Coláiste Eoin in Stillorgan, Dublin, is accustomed to grabbing headlines for topping school league tables, and picking up awards in science and GAA. Its alumni include Abbey Theatre director Fiach Mac Conghail, High Court judge Colm Mac Eochaidh and comedian Dara Ó Briain. But in the last 24 hours it has found itself at the centre of a very negative social media storm.

Its postponement of a workshop for students aimed at combating homophobic bullying has drawn much criticism, including from Ó Briain, who said on Twitter shortly after the story broke on Tuesday: “It looks pretty clumsy and ill-judged. A pity, since I gather they had been doing well on issues like this.”

The LGBT awareness group ShoutOut said one of its workshop leaders had been told the event had been called off “because the board of management had decided that both sides of the argument should be given”.

However, a new complexion has since been put on the story with the issuing of a statement by the school. It said the board of management had received “written communications from a number of parents outlining their concerns regarding the workshop”. In this context “it was incumbent on the board to address all issues and to seek the advice available from Catholic management representative bodies available to secondary schools”.

In short, the postponement was triggered by parents and not the board, and the school had little choice but to respond to these concerns.

No strict guidelines

There are no strict guidelines for managing external speakers in schools but best practice decrees parents would be informed in advance.

According to experienced principals, problems can arise if a teacher invites in a speaker without informing management. But ShoutOut said it had given similar workshops in this school in previous years.

There have been occasional controversies about schools inviting speakers showing graphic anti-abortion images or advocating unorthodox sex education against parents’ wishes.

The Joint Managerial Body, which represents two-thirds of voluntary secondary schools, runs annual workshops for boards of management.

Experienced principals said it was rare for boards to seek outside advice on external visitors and generally this related to workshops’ quality.

However, they said sometimes speakers would be advised to “tone down” or adapt presentations where there was a potential conflict with parental values.

Under departmental rules, a school board “must uphold the characteristic spirit [ethos] of the school and is accountable to the patron for so doing”.

From a management perspective, the key thing is to “avoid surprises”, according to one official. “You want to know well in advance who is coming in and what exactly the presentation is about.”


Limerick school principal describes strike action as ‘absolute disgrace’

Eanáir 23, 2015

We\\\’re sorry, but at the moment this page is only available in Béarla Meiriceánach

Ardú ar Litearthacht agus Uimhearthacht den chéad uair ó 1980

Eanáir 13, 2015

We\\\’re sorry, but at the moment this page is only available in Béarla Meiriceánach

‘Catholic first’ school admissions policies may be illegal

Eanáir 5, 2015

Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan aims to speed up process of switching patronage

School admissions policies run on a “Catholic first” basis may be in breach of both equality legislation and the Constitution, the State’s equality watchdog has been told.

A report commissioned by the Equality Authority – now part of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) – argues that article 44.2.4 of the Constitution puts an onus on Catholic schools to demonstrate exactly why positive discrimination in admissions is necessary to maintain their ethos.

The report, authored by Fergus Ryan, a lecturer in law at DIT, says: “In relation to the Catholic First policy, there is certainly at the very least a case to be answered that in its potential application to schools in receipt of state funding, the policy may be in breach of the Constitution . . . by excluding children from state-funded schools on the basis that they intend to exercise a constitutional right not to attend religious instruction therein.”
The report stops short, however, of recommending the authority take a test case on the issue.

Article 44.2.4 states that “legislation providing State aid for schools shall not discriminate between schools . . . nor be such as to affect prejudicially the right of any child to attend a school receiving public money”.

Protecting ethos

This is countered by section 7 of the Equal Status Act 2000, which gives religious-run schools the right to administer admissions policies which protect their ethos.

Mr Ryan says the key point of law is that each school patron, or board of management, must show that it “is not merely desirable [in the eyes of the Catholic Church] but that it is essential to discriminate in order to maintain the school’s ethos”.

Fr Michael Drumm, chairman of Catholic Schools Partnership, the bishops’ education wing, said any suggestion that its admissions policies were unconstitutional were “speculation” in the absence of a test case.

He pointed in turn to constitutional protections allowing faith-based organisations to run their own affairs.

The IHREC said it was awaiting the outcome of a Supreme Court case on alleged discrimination against a Traveller at a Christian Brothers’ school in Clonmel, Co Tipperary before bringing further legal challenges on admissions policies. The Supreme Court is due to deliver its ruling this year on the case, which could have far reaching implications for the Equal Status Act.

Patronage issue

The legality of “Catholic first” admissions policies has come into sharper focus due to the lack of progress in divesting school patronage.

Speaking to The Irish Times in a personal capacity, the chairman of the forum on patronage and pluralism Prof John Coolahan said “there needs to be a carrot and a stick” to deliver change. Asked what sort of stick could be used, he suggested that grants might be cut in locations where schools refused to change patronage.

The Department of Education carried out surveys in 43 areas following the forum’s report in April 2012 and identified parental demand for change in 28 of them.

To date just one school – a Church of Ireland primary school in Co Mayo – has transferred to another patron, although two Catholic schools merged in Dublin 8 to create a vacant building for Educate Together.

Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan is seeking to accelerate the divestment process. She also wants clearer guidelines on how “standalone” Catholic schools – those in areas where there is no parental alternative – intend to accommodate children of other faiths and none.

It is been suggested, for example, that religious instruction might be timetabled either at the start or at the end of the school day to allow non-Catholic pupils to opt out with little fuss.

Fr Drumm said the church would early this year publish “a statement that will guide schools in best practice”. While he wouldn’t be drawn on the contents, he said it was due for publication in the spring, and he stressed that Catholic schools were already inclusive in nature.


Forum head calls on church to speed up schools handover

Eanáir 5, 2015

The Department of Education needs to wield a “stick” against the Catholic Church if it wants to make progress on the divestment of schools to other patrons, according to the chairman of the forum on patronage and pluralism.

Prof John Coolahan says the church’s refusal to take “a proactive stance” in promoting the divestment of schools undermined the process from the outset, and he suggests cuts in school funding might be considered to concentrate minds.

UN human rights monitors have criticised “the slow progress in increasing access to secular education” in Ireland and are warning the Government it faces fresh censure in the absence of reform.

Former minister for education Ruairí Quinn once talked about removing half of the State’s 3,100 primary schools from Catholic Church control to create a more diverse and inclusive system.

To date, however, the church has yet to hand over a single primary school to another patron, although it did merge two Catholic schools to create a vacant property for Educate Together.

One Church of Ireland school has transferred to Educate Together, the multidenominational patron which has also opened nine new primary schools in areas of growing populations.

Prof Coolahan said: “There needs to be a carrot and a stick and I think the stick wasn’t much applied as time went on.

“If there was no movement at all then I do think that you could say schools in this area – though this might be a bit crude – would have reduced capitation,” he added.

Educate Together

Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan has said she hopes to be able to announce this month plans for “three to four” further Educate Together schools, including in Tuam and New Ross.

These are two of 28 areas that have been earmarked for change on foot of parental surveys in select locations.

Prof Coolahan, who oversaw the forum’s main report in April 2012 and has contributed to subsequent update reports, suggests it was a mistake to leave the Catholic bishops, as patrons, to drive the reforms.

While they arranged for boards of management to meet parents and to discuss the merits of changing patronage, he said, “they rarely turned up themselves.

“They didn’t explain, ‘look, we would like this to happen, we think this should happen because we have concern for the public good – love your neighbour’.

“They have never taken a proactive, direct stance, using their offices to open people’s minds. They have done it at a distance.

“It was never going to happen if you were just going to leave it open like that. It always needed church and State to use their good offices at local level where there was a legitimacy of moving.”

Phasing out

In its latest report, the UN committee overseeing the implementation of the covenant on civil and political rights said it was concerned about the slow progress, not only in divesting patronage but also in creating non-denominational schools and in phasing out integrated religious curriculums in State schools.

Rapporteur for Ireland Yuval Shany told The Irish Times: “We do not have the power to sanction states but we would contend the State is under a legal obligation to take on board the recommendations in good faith.

“The way the Government undertakes these reforms is really up to the Government but it should go towards a system which offers the student options.”


16 extra schools to benefit from expanded building programme

Nollaig 19, 2014

Some 16 school building projects have been added to the Department of Education’s infrastructural programme for 2015.

The extra projects include a new primary school building for Gaelscoil de hÍde in Fermoy, Co Cork, which has been engaged in a long-running campaign to accommodate its expanding student population.

Also benefitting is St Patrick’s Cathedral Grammar School, which abandoned fees for its pupils earlier this year so it could qualify for building grants and other supports under the Free Education Scheme.

The 450-year-old school, one of the country’s oldest, had been campaigning unsuccessfully since 2000 for the new building, which will encompass a derelict site on Kevin Street.

The 16 projects, which will replace inadequate educational infrastructure, are part of 70 building projects scheduled to proceed to construction next year.

The projects are part of a €2.2 billion five-year capital investment programme launched in March 2012, aimed at meeting demographic demand for new schools and facilities.

44 new primary schools

The 70 projects scheduled to begin next year comprise 44 new schools at primary level, 11 extensions at primary level, five new schools at second level, eight extensions at second-level and two new special schools.

Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan said that together with school projects ongoing from 2014, this meant that a total of 196 major school projects would be on site next year. She said further building projects would be announced next year.

Ms O’Sullivan acknowledged that some schools had campaigned for years to get new buildings but there was “no intention to delay” on the part of the Government or the department.

“Inevitably some of these are very large projects. Some of them do run into difficulties that delay them. But as Minister I want to move them forward as quickly as possible.”

She also said the department was monitoring claims of exploitation of labourers in school building projects. The trade union Unite has claimed that workers are earning less than €5 per hour in some projects due to sub-contracting arrangements.

The Minister said there was an auditing system in the department “and anything that is untoward is reported to the relevant authorities” be it Revenue, the Department of Social Protection or the National Employment Rights Authority.

She noted that there were difficulties from the striking down in court of some of the protections for workers but her colleague Ged Nash, Minister of State at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, was making “significant progress” in addressing these.

Construction industry

“This programme brings a very large number of jobs to an industry that has been pretty much on its knees for several years now. So it’s a very important element of the revival of the construction industry, which is a priority for Government,” Ms O’Sullivan said. l The full list of building projects approved can be found at education.ie.


Divestment ‘not progressing as quickly as hoped’

Meán Fómhair 1, 2014

The Minister for Education has accepted that plans to divest primary schools from the Catholic Church to other patrons are not progressing as quickly as hoped.

Today will see only the second change of patronage under the scheme when Newtownwhite National School outside Ballina, Co Mayo, transfers from the Church of Ireland to Educate Together in a ceremony due to be attended by Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

According to a report in today’s Irish Times, the process is being hindered by unexpected legal complications, including an absence of paperwork between the sState and religious authorities over title to land.

Paul Rowe of Educate Together: says there have been unexpected hold-ups due to “real estate” problems, including that many schools earmarked for transfer were owned by religious trusts or foundationsLack of paperwork hindering school divestment programme

Breda O’Brien of the Iona Institute said the report appeared to strike the right balance between making denominational schools more genuinely inclusive while also respecting the ethos and identity of those schools.

Speaking in Limerick this morning, Jan O’Sullivan stressed divestment can only be achieved through a process of consultation.

“Clearly, there are ownership rights and property rights and so on, that are involved but I would like to move it as quickly as possible,” she said.

“I think there are 28 parts of the country where there has already been some surveys carried out and where there is an expressed view that parents want other options. I want to see those [views] developed,” she added.

The Minister insisted divestment was not just a matter of paperwork.

“It’s around actually working out an agreement whereby a school that currently has ownership or patronage of a school is willing to engage in terms of changing, so it is a process of consultation and collaboration and I would certainly hope to drive it.”

Cyber bullying

The Minister for Education also said today that her Department is engaged in discussions with education partners to see how they can “actively address” the scourge of cyber bullying.

Her remarks follows calls from school principals for a dedicated classroom module on cyber bullying to be introduced to tackle growing concerns at junior and senior levels .

“It is something that concerns me greatly. Children are very vulnerable to cyber bullying they obviously have access to all technology now and are very engaged and it’s a very insidious form of bullying. It’s much easier to deal with physical bullying in a school situation but we certainly need to address it.”

Irish Times

More is more as number of students taking Irish and science increase

Lúnasa 13, 2014

During her term as minister for education, Mary Hanafin increased the percentage grade for the oral component of Irish to 40 per cent, aiming to increase the overall numbers taking Irish and the uptake at higher level. This change was flagged in advance over a five year period, so Hanafin was long gone from the DES when the results of her initiative began to emerge in the past few years.

Evidence from the higher level Irish results for 2012-2014 show the increase in the oral component to 40 per cent has led to an increase in the actual numbers taking Irish in the Leaving at higher level. As a proportion of those sitting English, the number who actually sit Irish at all three levels has increased over the past three years from 42,964 (85.17%) to 43,651 (85.83%) to 45,268 (86.6%). The number taking Irish at higher level has increased from 15,937 (37%) to 18,134 (40%). The success rate of these students in securing a C or higher (88.8%) is by far the highest of the mainstream subjects; the failure rate is just 0.6%. At ordinary level failure is a modest 4.1%.

Compared to the numbers taking English, which is indicative of the total numbers of school-based full-time Leaving Cert students, over 13.4% of full-time Leaving Cert students at second level do not sit Irish in the Leaving. Many of them are exempted because of a disability or having moved to Ireland late in primary school. Apart from these, a significant number registered as studying Irish, as non-exempted students are required to do, have effectively abandoned the subject, and fail to even turn up to sit the exams in the Leaving. These numbers highlight the question of whether Irish should remain compulsory for all students not exempted up to Leaving Cert level.

Teacher unions are concerned about the capacity of schools to continue offering the full range of Leaving Cert subjects given staff cutbacks. This is not reflected in the numbers taking the wide range of optional subjects. Spanish is now taken by 5,340 or 10% of Leaving Cert students. The numbers taking higher level Spanish, having increased by 17% last year, went up by a further 10% in 2014, to 3,378. This is welcome given the ongoing dominance of French (26,496 students or half of Leaving Cert students), and, to a lesser extent, German (6,858 or 13%).

The message that there are career advantages in science has been taken on board by students, as seen by the increase in the numbers taking science subjects. Across biology, chemistry, physics, agricultural science and physics/chemistry, 57,141 papers were taken by approximately 54,000 students.

The Leaving Cert student numbers increased by 2.9% this year, but the percentage increase at higher level science subjects is 4.3% in biology, 6.4% in agricultural science, 7% in chemistry and 12% in physics. The numbers for applied maths increased again this year to 1,569 at higher (over 28% got an A).

There is an increase again for non-curricular EU languages – from 1,470 in 2013 to 1,485 in 2014. Polish was taken by 50% of students who took a non-curricular EU language. Croatian was offered for the first time this year, with 23 candidates taking the examination. Other languages taken in 2014 included Japanese (298 students) and Arabic (108 students, all at higher level).

By far the most successful students in the 2014 Leaving Cert, as in 2013, are those who sat Russian. All 292 took the subject at higher level, and 97.5% got a C or higher, with 82.5% getting an A.


The girls are home from the Gaeltacht

Lúnasa 1, 2014

The girls are home from the Gaeltacht. Iníon a hAon and Iníon a Dó got good weather, talked for Ireland, did a bit of surfing (there was no surfing in my day) and now are tweeting and texting people who, when I was young, would have sent you a postcard or a letter. (You remember getting those, don’t you?)

It was nice to see them home from Donegal after three weeks and a day. Still, they were playing it cool when daddy arrived to pick them up from the bus. I noticed – not without a little jealousy – one teenage boy giving his dad a big hug. No chance of a PDA from my cailíní, however. They just put the bags in the car and waved goodbye to their friends – “Slán! Slán!” – and off we went.

They had their stories about who did what, about everyone crying at the Céilí Mór – “even na buachaillí” – about what people were wearing at the Fancy Dress Céilí – some of the “buachaillí” were dressed as girls – about watching the World Cup with the “buachaillí” and all the girls supporting Argentina because it was easier to wear blue and white than to match Germany’s colours. In short, they had fun – which is how it should be – and learnt a bit more Irish. (They certainly know the word “buachaillí”.)

Like many parents who speak Irish, you hope your children take an interest but worry that you might put them off if you are too strident. (Contrary to what the Irish haters think, I, like so many other parents, am raising children, not Storm Troopers of the Irregular Verbs Division.) In fact, my little corner of the planet is not well know for Irish – the language died out around the beginning of 1800 – but I speak to the girls and they are learning it at school. It’s something rather than nothing and that, I am afraid, is my approach to these things. To read the comments that accompany the never-ending language debate in Ireland, one would think that Irish-speaking parents send them children over the top in a mad futile charge against the pill-boxes of English, irrespective of the cost.

Not so. I suspect most of us are happy with something rather than nothing when it comes to the language. Any little encouragement gives us a chance to say: “Look, children, did you hear that Brad and Angelina are going to Oideas Gael to research their next film about how a cell of Gaeilgeoirí plot to take over the world? They are calling the movie, Mr and Mrs Mac Gabhann.”

Something rather than nothing. That is why many people get so annoyed with smug Government statements about the language; about how ministers of state are a bit rusty but can be sent off on a course to begin their journey to enlightenment. We know all about courses – we are on that journey and are paying for that journey and saving up for the next journey. (What mugs, eh? Practising what we preach and actually paying for it out of our own pocket! A career in politics does not beckon!)

Our children speak English – we just want them to have the chance to speak a bit of Irish and to know that speaking that bit of Irish is a “good thing”. We want them to have an active cultural life as well as the one that involves twitter, downloads and dancing to MTV. They have all that already. We just want to give them something extra, to show them a little corner of Ireland that still exists, just about, in An Ghaeltacht.

Anyone who visits the Gaeltacht knows that the physical sign that marks the border between Gaeltacht and Galltacht is misleading. Passing those famous “An Ghaeltacht” markers does not mean that you have crossed into a linguistic territory in the way in which you might cross from France to Germany. No, the Gaeltacht is altogether more porous. You will find native speakers but it might take you a bit of time. They are there, however, out in the fields and hidden up little roads and, if you are lucky, you make an acquaintance or two that stands you in good stead for the rest of your life.

That said, I was not sending the girls to the Gaeltacht with orders to put a GPS tracer on every native speaker they met. Yes, there is the linguistic element – that they hear something rather than nothing. And they did and they learnt something. One got her Silver Fáinne and is “tots sásta” and one got a couple of gold stars for effort and is happy with that for the moment. They enjoyed the course, made new friends and met people from places as far away as Dublin. (Dubliners in the Donegal Gaeltacht sounds like a Paul Durcan poem.) They are both using more Irish than they did before they left and are, at the time of writing, happy to go back next year.

Something rather than nothing.

I know that 30 years ago when I began to learn Irish seriously I had to go to the Gaeltacht. I am glad I had the chance. I am glad that my children have had the chance. I would like to think that in another 30 years – if the good Lord spares me – there might still be a Gaeltacht. I would like to think that there will be another generation of buachaillí and cailíní who get to know the kindness of a bean an tí; who get to dress up at a Céilí Bréagéadaí; who get to dance Tonntaí Thoraí in the sight of the island itself; who cry at the Céilí Mór; who walk home with friends in the dark night with all the stars shining in the sky.

Many of us have been on the journey that Joe McHugh is beginning. No one would wish him anything but good luck. Let us hope he gets something rather than nothing out of it – but let the Government remember also that we are not the ones letting them down by not speaking Irish, they are the ones letting us down.


« Previous PageNext Page »